Category Archives: Australian history

Joseph Eyles

Another interesting character in my family tree is Joseph Eyles, a convict who came to have a very successful life in Australia.

Joseph was born on the 1st December 1773 in Marlborough, England. He was the son of Sir Joesph Eyles (1743-1840) and Mary Dudley (1744-1840). In October 1796, Joseph was committed to stand trial for the theft of 40lbs of lead. In January 1797 he was found guilty and was sent to the prison hulk The Fortune, where he spent two and a half long years before being transferred to the ship Canada for transportation to Australia. He finally arrived in Australia in 1801 . In 1805 he was assigned to the whaling ship King George and by 1807 he was free by servitude.

Joseph had married Elizabeth Dixon (1784-1811) in Parramatta on the 6th November 1804. Unfortunately Elizabeth died in 1811 at the age of 27.

On the 4th February 1815, Joseph married Elizabeth Smith (1785-1854). Elizabeth was also a convict, who was sentenced to transportation for stealing a gown and arrived in Sydney in October 1811 on the ship Friends. Interestingly, it appears that the name ‘Smith’ was an alias used by Elizabeth and her real surname was actually either Trebble or Trible. Elizabeth had a daughter, Anne (1802-1853), from a previous relationship.

Joseph and Elizabeth had six children together – Joseph (1812-1865), John (1814-1878), Mary Ann (1816-1890), William (1818-1859), James (1820-1907) and Elizabeth (1824-1898).

In 1810, Joseph was living with Elizabeth and her daughter Anne on land in Field of Mars – 6ha of land leased from John Macarthur. That land was on Marsden Rd almost opposite Mobbs Lane and on it, Joseph planted a peach orchard. In 1821, John Macarthur gave up all his properties in the Pennant Hills district in exchange for land in the Cowpastures (Camden). By this time, five of the Eyles children had been born.

In 1822, Joseph asked Governor Brisbane to grant him the land on which he was living in exchange for 20ha that he been granted by Governor Macquarie to the north of his peach orchard. The 1822 Muster lists Joseph’s farm as comprising of 6 acres of wheat, 6 acres of corn, 2.5 acres of oats, 1 acre of potatoes and a 1 acre orchard. He also had a horse and 16 hogs.

Joseph’s request for more land was not finally settled until 1832 although Joseph had built a much grander house and planted more peaches on his original orchard.

In the meantime, in January 1828, Joseph was made a Constable at Parramatta. That appointment provided him with an income (3/15/- per half-year) and government rations, also obtainable half-yearly.

Of Joseph’s sons, Joseph Jnr moved to the Richmond River in northern NSW where he supplied goods and services to the cedar cutters. John moved to Ballina, William remained in the Carlingford district, as did James who became a pillar of the Wesleyan Church (now Uniting Church) on Marsden Rd. That church was established in 1825. James built a fine house on Marsden Rd. That house, still standing, was named “Caskie Ben” after a parish near Aberdeen in Scotland.

Joseph died on the 26th June 1856 in Dundas and was buried at All Saints Cemetery in Parramatta along with his wife Elizabeth and her daughter Ann.

Eyles Family Grave



Filed under Australian history, Convicts, Pioneers


One resource that I get particularly good mileage from is the National Library of Australia’s online resource Trove ( Trove is a free online repository of Australian material and includes digitised newspapers, journals, photographs, videos, books and archived websites amongst other valuable resources. Trove currently includes almost 240 million resources for users to browse.

The area of Trove that I tend to access most often is their fantastic online repository of digitised newspapers. Currently this collection includes a range of Australian newspapers published between 1803 – 1954. These newspapers are from right around Australia but are predominantly those from New South Wales and Victoria.

The NLA is continuously adding new newspapers and issues to the website and users can subscribe to an RSS feed to be kept updated on new additions. New additions for the month of April include The Australasian Sketcher (VIC), The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW), The Clarence and Richmond Examiner (NSW), The Empire (NSW), The Gippsland Times (VIC), The Mail (SA), The Observer (TAS) and The Townsville Daily Bulletin (QLD).

It is always worth searching through Trove for death notices, funeral notices and obituaries. I have found many missing puzzle pieces in my own family tree this way.

Obituary for Thomas Power (1843-1929)

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In Their Footsteps

For those who didn’t happen to catch the new Channel 9 program In Their Footsteps ( on Sunday night, it is well worth watching. We tuned in to the first episode and were particularly enthralled because the focus in this installment was on the life of Sailor and WWII Serviceman, PO Tommy Johnson, whose experiences throughout WWII greatly resembled those of my husband’s Great Uncle Walter Mervyn Dorman.

Walter, known as Merv, was born on the 3rd July 1905 in Leichhardt NSW. He was the eldest son of Walter Henry Dorman (1883-1961) and Alice Lillian Dora Power (1182-1961). In 1919, at the age of 14, he enlisted as a Cadet with the Australian Army and on the 24th June 1940 he joined the 2/12 Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers.

Walter was captured by the Japanese and we believe sent to work on the infamous Burma Railway along with approximately 60,000 Allied POWs. He survived this horrific experience and returned to POW camps in Singapore.

On the 4th September 1944, Merv was one of 1317 POWs placed aboard the Japanese ship Rayuko Maru bound for Japan. On the 12th September 1944, the Rakuyo Maru was torpedoed by the US Submarine Sealion, unaware that Allied POWs were on board. 1159 POWs from the Rayuko Maru and the ship it was travelling with, Kachidoki Maru, perished. Merv survived this event and although American submarines later returned to rescue some POWs, Merv was one of the 136 survivors who were picked up by the Japanese ship Kibitsu Maru and transported to Japan.

In Japan, Merv and his fellow POWs were destined to see out the war working in Japanese mines and shipyards until the American Occupation Forces emancipated them in September 1945. Tragically, after all he had been through, Merv died in a hospital in Tokyo on the 21st May 1945. He missed out on his freedom by a few short months.

Merv is buried in the Sydney War Cemetery at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney.

Some related links –

Royal Australian Engineers Homepage –

“Railway of Death” – History of Burma-Thailand Railway –

“The Survivor” by Darryl Kelly – An extract from this fascinating book which details the life of Bill Webb, a fellow POW and survivor of the Rayuko Maru –

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Filed under Australian history, Military history, WWII

Not Just Ned

For those in Canberra or planning a visit to the area, you may want to check out the new exhibition at the National Museum of Australia – Not Just Ned: a true history of the Irish in Australia.

The exhibition focuses on the history of the Irish in Australia and the contribution they have made to our culture. In addition to some fascinating exhibits including armour that belonged to the Kelly Gang and fragments from the original Eureka Flag, there is also a dedicated resource area that visitors can use to research their Irish heritage.

The exhibition runs until the end of July. More details are available on the website –

Thomas Power 1843 (Tipperary, Ireland) -1929 (Sydney, Australia)


Filed under Australian history, Irish history

Solomon Wiseman and the history of Wisemans Ferry

An interesting character from my family tree is a man named Solomon Wiseman, an English convict who made a very successful life for himself here in New South Wales.

Solomon was born on the 16th April 1777 in Cobham, Kent. Wiseman was a merchant who also worked for the British Government carrying spies across the English Channel to France. In 1805 he was  convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing 704 lbs of brazil wood. He was sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted to transportation for life to Australia.

Along with his wife Jane (nee Middleton, whom he married in 1799) and their two children William (1801-1831) and Richard (1806-1856), Solomon arrived in Sydney aboard the Alexander on the 20th August 1806.

Solomon was fortunate to be granted conditional liberty, which essentially meant that he was free to serve out his sentence under the supervision of his wife. In 1810 he was granted a Ticket of Leave and in 1812 he was given an Absolute Pardon. He then started an extremely successful business empire as a merchant which included shipping coal from Newcastle, wheat from the Hawkesbury region and timber from the Shoalhaven region. In 1811 he had launched his sloop the Hawkesbury Packet which he used to bring cedar from Port Stephens.

In 1817 he was granted 100 acres on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in Lower Portland Head, which became known as Wisemans Ferry. In 1823 he was granted a further 200 acres here. On this land he built an inn known as the Sign of the Packet in 1821 and in 1826 he built an elaborate family home known as Cobham Hall (now the Wisemans Inn Hotel).

The following is taken from the monument to Solomon at Wisemans Ferry (courtesy of Hawkesbury on the Net)…

In the early 1820’s Wiseman shrewdly discovered the government’s intentions to build the colony’s first road between Sydney and the Hunter Valley near his land grant. Wiseman took it upon himself to convince the authorities that a route through his land was the best. With success for Wiseman the road building commenced in 1826 with two road gangs being located on either side of the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry . In 1827 Solomon Wiseman received the lucrative contract to supply all provisions to these gangs, and later that year the licence to operate a ferry to transport people and stock across the river. The original ferry crossing was 2km downstream from its present crossing, but was moved in 1829 when the Devine’s Hill ascent was chosen as the new route for the Great North Road. The current ferry crossing is the oldest in Australia’s history.

Solomon and Jane had four more children after their arrival in Australia – John (1809-1855), Thomas (1811-1855), Mary (1813-1872) and Sarah (1816-1902).

Jane died at the age of 51 on the 20th July 1821 at Portland Head after a long illness.

Solomon married Sophia Warner (nee Williams) on the 1st November 1826 at Wilberforce. Sophia was the widow of one of his employees. They stayed married until his death on the 28th November 1838. He was buried at his property with first wife Jane and later reinterred at the Church  of St Mary Magdalene. Sadly, his vault was broken into and his coffin vandalised. What was left of Solomon was then buried at the cemetery at Wisemans Ferry. Sophia returned to England in 1841 and died in London in 1870.

Portrait of Solomon Wiseman

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Filed under Australian history, Convicts, Pioneers

Mapping our Anzacs

Robert Cedric Dorman (1897-1917) - Enlistment Papers

Many of us will have had military history on our minds this week and with that in mind, I thought I should mention a fantastic website developed by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs…

Mapping Our Anzacs is more than a website, it is really an interactive and collaborative online tool for researching those that served in the Australian Army during WWI. The format is quite unique and utilises Google mapping technology to explore our military history in a new way. The site includes over 375,000 service records that became more widely accessible in 2007 when the NAA released online copies of all the records in their B2455 Series i.e. records of those serving in WWI.

The website has a number of facets which is what makes it so interesting. The user can use maps to search for soldiers by their place of birth or place of enlistment. Each location displays an alphabetical listing of all soldiers from that location which the user can then select from to display service records. What makes the website so special is that users can select a person and add their own information to a digital scrapbook which will appear on the website. Users are also encouraged to develop ‘tribute pages’. This is something I plan on doing in the future.

Well worth a look –

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Filed under Archives, Australian history, Military history, Research tools, WWI

Some useful military resources

Petty Officer James Armstrong & actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell.

Being ANZAC day on the 25th, I have been doing some more research on family members that served in the military. The very useful thing about researching those who have served is that the military keep very thorough records and are also quite mindful of making historical records accessible. I thought I would make a quick list of some websites that I often use in my research…

The AIF Project

Created by ADFA, this database is an invaluable resource that gives quite comprehensive details of over 330,000 Defence members that served overseas in the First Australian Imperial Force 1914-1918.

The Australian War Memorial

Users can search the AWM’s collection for records related to individuals or the units in which they served from 1885-present.

World War II Nominal Roll
A searchable database of those that served in the Australian Defence Forces or Merchant Navy during WWII.
Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918
A comprehensive guide to WWI battles, with a detailed information about European war cemeteries.
Includes a useful database of 1.7 million men and women who served in the Commonwealth Forces in WWI & WWII and details of the 23,000 cemeteries and memorials where they are commemorated.

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Filed under Archives, Australian history, Military history, Research tools, WWI, WWII